For the Birds Radio Program: A Walk in Port Wing
A long walk in a lovely place can restore the spirit.
A Walk in Port Wing
(Recording of a Winter Wren)
John Burroughs, the naturalist, once wrote: “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in tune once more.”
When life gets out of control for me, I escape to Port Wing, Wisconsin, for a long hike with my golden retriever, Bunter. First we follow Quarry Road along to the quarry. One morning three Winter Wrens battled to define their territorial boundaries in song right above me. Imagine this song running in endless three part harmony–
(Recording of a Winter Wren)
I check out the beach at the quarry for shorebirds and ducks while Bunter waits impatiently, knowing this is also the place to play fetch. She leaps skyward as I pick up a piece of driftwood, but I must study it carefully before I can toss it into the water–ladybugs gather here in clusters. It would be an unforgivable sin to hurl a congregation of ladybugs to a watery death in a game of fetch.
Then we walk along the gravel road toward the slough. The few people who pass in their cars always wave and smile–Port Wing is a friendly kind of place–but my eyes are on the warblers. Warblers teach humility–they may come within a foot of me, but only because they spy a bug for eating or a perch for singing. They’re not afraid of me–nor are they even mildly curious, or interested in striking up an acquaintanceship. Warblers make me think of what Brooks Atkinson, the critic, said: “Although birds coexist with us on this eroded planet, they live independently of us with a self-sufficiency that is almost a rebuke. In the world of birds a symposium on the purpose of life would be inconceivable. They do not need it. We are not that self-reliant. We are the ones who have lost our way.”
When we get to the slough I have to keep Bunter at heel–there’s always a Killdeer with eggs or young somewhere around. It’s interesting for a person to watch a Killdeer doing its broken-wing routine to protect its babies, but it stresses the bird badly. Bunter never seems to mind heeling here, because we quickly get to another beach–one that abounds in dead fish for her to roll on. Then we play fetch in the lake again to kill the smell.
We follow the beach along to Big Pete Road–my favorite place in the universe. Virgin pines tower above this lovely, dark, and deep woods, and the buzzy clip of the Northern Parula fills the air.
(Recording of a Northern Parula)
As we walk the long stretch of Highway 13 back to Kinney Valley Rd. and the home of my favorite Port Wing Blue Jay hater, I often wonder what it is about birds that holds me as much in their world as in my own. Roger Tory Peterson has part of the answer. He said: “In a world that seems so very puzzling, is it any wonder birds have such appeal? Birds are, perhaps, the most eloquent expression of reality.” And Donald Culross Peattie expressed another facet of the answer: “Every human being looks to the birds. They suit the fancy of us all. What they feel they can voice, as we try to; they court and nest, they battle with the elements, they are torn by two opposing impulses, a love of home and a passion for far places. Only with birds do we share so much emotion.” (Recording of a Winter Wren)
This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”